This Sunday's Readings
Daniel prophesies about the judgment of the last days.
God protects us and shows us the path of life.
Jesus' offering for sin has made all to be consecrated perfect forever.
Jesus teaches about the signs of the coming of the Son of Man.
Background on the Gospel Reading
This Sunday is the second to last Sunday of our liturgical year. As we approach the end of the Church year, our Gospel invites us to consider Jesus' predictions and teaching about the end of the world. In the context of Mark's Gospel, Jesus' words about this are spoken to his disciples as he prepares them for his passion and death.
Before we consider Jesus' words, it is important to note the political backdrop against which many think Mark's Gospel was written. Most scholars concur that Mark wrote his Gospel for Christians living in or near Rome about 30 to 40 years after the death of Jesus. This was a time of political turmoil in Rome. Some Christians experienced persecution by the Romans during the reign of the emperor Nero (about 64 A.D.). Jewish revolutionaries rebelled against the Romans, which led the Romans to destroy the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. In this time of political turmoil and persecution, many in Mark's community might have wondered if the end times predicted by Jesus were in fact quite near.
Last Sunday we heard Jesus' observation about the contributions being made to the temple treasury and the example of sacrificial giving that he saw in the poor widow's offering. If we had been reading Mark's Gospel continuously, we would have heard Jesus predict the destruction of the Temple, his teaching about the costs of discipleship, and the woes that will accompany the end times. Finally, we would have heard Jesus instruct his disciples about the need for watchfulness so that they will not be caught unprepared for this final day of judgment.
In today's Gospel, Jesus continues this teaching by offering his disciples signs to look for that will indicate that the coming of the Son of Man is near. His words and images draw upon Old Testament imagery, especially images found in the Book of Daniel. Next, Jesus offers the lesson of the fig tree, a parable that teaches that if one knows how to read the signs, one can be prepared for the end times. Jesus also teaches, however, that no one knows when the end time will come, except the Father. In the verses that follow this reading in Mark's Gospel, Jesus continues to warn his disciples to be on watch for this end time.
Jesus' words are not spoken to frighten his disciples, nor should they frighten us. Rather, they are offered to prepare us for the changes we will experience during our lifetimes and at the end times. Our consolation and hope is found in the lasting nature of Jesus' words and God's never-ending love for us.